Spend an afternoon at the beach

by Cara McDonough in

One of the things my children are really good at lately is trashing the house in a matter of minutes. It's not that they're crazy kids and, actually, the process is often pretty imaginative. They're "building a house," or "doing a show" or "making a school." 

The materials used are always rather diverse, though, meaning an interesting outcome for them, and the onset of stress for me. Throw pillows from the couch. Magazines. A blanket pulled off a bed upstairs. My driver's license, somehow. They make the kind of mess you can't simply sweep back into the appropriate bin or basket, because its' origins are house-wide. And, unlike the creation of such bold structures, the tidying up part takes forever. 

I know I should make them clean it up themselves, and I do try but the truth is that J or I can take care of it literally 4,000 times faster than the two of them combined, so it's often a group effort. 

I don't like it. So earlier this summer I was all, "Ok. We're not going to spend any more time indoors, ever." A noble plan but, obviously, unrealistic. 

I have, however, done a pretty good job of getting the kids out of the house as much as possible. Nora's been at a few camps and outside plenty during the day, but I'm often with both kids in the late afternoon, trying to fill those couple hours before J gets home and dinner. 

One of our favorite nearby places to go is Lighthouse Point Park. It's a gem for kids and parents alike since there's the beach, a playground and splash pad. It's so close to our house that we often head there on impulse, packing just a couple things.

It's a great activity for me, especially being pregnant, because I can pretty much relax on a bench while the kids do whatever they want. 

Like jump off this stone statue. We can't decide if he's a dolphin or a seal. 

They did this for nearly half an hour while I sat with my feet in the warm sand nearby, not once anticipating cleaning up the living room before bedtime that night, letting the bright sun sink into my shoulders, still rejoicing in the fact that there is, remarkably, warmth again after that long, frigid winter. 


Exercise regularly

by Cara McDonough

One of the interesting things about having another baby is comparing three, district pregnancy experiences. With Nora, my ankles were swollen and my ice cream cravings were fearsome events. Memories of being pregnant with Gabriel have sort of fallen through the cracks, but I do know that I continued attending rigorous exercise classes throughout and couldn't stop thinking about drinking delicious craft beers. 

This baby, perhaps in preparation for what its actual life will be like, isn't getting much special consideration pre-birth, and, truthfully, that's made the pregnancy a positive experience in a lot of ways. I've been enjoying food, not worrying as much about what I should or should not be eating. I've been wearing the maternity clothes I like best, and that are the most comfortable. 

I haven't really been thinking about the pregnancy as much in general, at least I didn't in the first seven or eight months (now it's pretty hard to ignore my sheer size and associated fatigue), and certainly haven't worried as much as I did when pregnant with the first two.

I wouldn't say I "forgot" about being pregnant altogether - I mean, come on - but there were plenty of days it fell to the back of my mind, and I didn't dwell on the physical feelings I was having the way I did in the past, especially when I was pregnant with Nora and could devote full afternoons to rhapsodizing on the threat and reality of constipation.

There just hasn't been time. In the same vein, I've gained much less weight with this baby. That's certainly due, in part, to dealing with my already existing children.

I've always hated this reasoning when celebrities use it in magazine interviews: "I'm keeping in shape running after my kids!" Oh, PLEASE. But finally, the third time around, it's true. Despite my penchant for baked goods to start the day, and still obsessed with ice cream, I don't have the energy to indulge quite as much; when confronted with the choice between sweets and lying down, I often choose the latter. Ok, like 50 percent of the time I choose the latter. Which I guess made a difference. 

So, I've been staying active, not always by choice. I did, however, start this third pregnancy off strong in the exercise department, still attending classes and even doing a few exercise videos at home. I lifted weights. I kept running, until I got a few weeks into the second trimester and felt - no less than three steps into each run - that I had to pee IMMEDIATELY, no matter that I'd gone less than one minute prior, and also, that my uterus might crash through my pelvic floor. Unpleasant feelings, so I ditched the running in favor of more lying down. 

And eventually, I ditched the rest. My days were too busy and I simply didn't feel like it. I had minimal guilt about this. See? Third pregnancies can be nice. 

What I kept up with was long walks, away from our house towards the beach at Lighthouse Point, sometimes looping through the park and along the sand by the Long Island Sound, then home again. Two to two-and-half miles at a brisk pace while listening to loud music through my headphones. 

I walked when I was pregnant with Nora, too, I remember, but it was always a more leisurely affair. My free hours were far more plentiful then, while expecting my first child. Leaving your house and responsibilities behind in a burst of gleeful energy is something you get very good at once the children actually arrive. 

When I wrote "exercise regularly" as a summer goal, I'd been thinking about this departure from more intense endeavors and wondering if I could get back there, but in the weeks since my attitude has been more along the lines of, "Why bother?" 

I kept up with the walks, though. I wish I was heading out every other day or so, but the reality is that I've probably averaged one good walk a week in the past few months. 

Accepting "the reality," is what this pregnancy has been about, is the thing. Coming to grips with the fact that I am very tired around 4 p.m. and a short nap on the couch, while the children play and (hopefully) don't kill themselves is a much better idea than tackling whatever duty I'd meant to complete that afternoon.

Releasing myself from any guilt established eating quite a lot of M&Ms, after which I feel the need to ask J if that act could have possibly given the baby diabetes in the womb (and he responsibly replies, "Oh my God. No.")

Looking forward to quiet hours with a new baby once he or she finally arrives. Letting family and babysitters help. Not working, or thinking about work, considering opportunities or worrying about the lack thereof, until I'm ready. 

The summer goal of exercising regularly? In my more aggressive past, no, I'm not sure I'd consider my actions to date a success. 

But this summer is different. This summer, it's a yes. 

Summer goals 2014

by Cara McDonough in

This morning I had to take our dog, Mina, to the vet for a rabies shot, and since we are in the heady grasp of summer vacation, needed to take the children with me. 

It was one of those things that sounded like it would be super easy, you know? Get the kids and dog in the car, scoot the mere couple miles down to the vet for a quick visit and come home. I didn't even bother asking if anyone could watch them, it would be so fast. 

The kids were excited about it even. They liked the prospect of seeing Mina get a shot. Because they are a little bit evil. 

But about ten minutes before we were scheduled to be there, Gabriel informed me that he had to go to the potty, then took my hand and led me to the bathroom where he proceeded to not only go, but engage me in a play-by-play of the process, spoken in proud whispers while pointing, ensuring that it took 20-30 times longer than necessary. I stood there as my baby weight seemed to increase exponentially. If we didn't have somewhere to go, I may have curled up on the tile floor.

I was trying to be a good and patient parent, but at a certain point had to remind him that the car was running with Mina inside, who was very anxious to get her shot. This helped him recommit to the cause. 

When we got downstairs, however, we found Nora lying on the living room floor, one pink sandal on and the other tossed to the side. Her face was locked in an expression of utter despair and when I asked her what was wrong she explained, in between deep sighs, that she could not get her shoes on and no one would help her and she couldn't stay home alone if we left her and it was never going to get better. 

I looked out at the car. It was still running, windows cracked and Mina did not appear to be dead inside or prepared to put it in gear and get the hell away from our family, forever and ever, which, honestly, I'm surprised she hasn't done yet. 

What I wanted to do was tell Nora that if she couldn't get her shoes on, we would leave her there, on the floor, in her misery, and then start walking out the door as though about to do just that. 

The thing about using threats as a parenting technique, however, is - no, not that it's mean, is "it's too mean" what what you thought I was going to say? - that it doesn't work. Unless you are fully prepared to follow through with the threat, and obviously, I couldn't leave Nora home alone, although she is going to be a great and very strict babysitter someday. 

So, despite the fact that I was entering parental territory best described as "fully losing it, holy shit," I paused, took a breath, and said, "Listen, Nora. You're five. Gabe's only three and I've got another baby in my belly. Since you're the oldest, I need you to do things like this by yourself, and when you can't, you can ask me for help. But ask me in the right way." 

She acquiesced. "Please can you help me put on my sandals," she said, pushing away the adopted whine and forcing her voice into a semblance of normalcy.  I did, and we made it into the car a full two minutes before we were scheduled to arrive at the vet appointment, which went fine, except for the part where I informed the kids, when they asked, that Mina had already gotten her shot; they'd been so busy playing that they missed it. I was able to distract them from a world regret by pulling some medical literature I'd recently received from my own doctor out of my bag, along with a few crayons that just happened to be in there and letting them draw.

I'm telling this story because life can be like this a lot of the time when you have kids. Excruciatingly tedious. Physically demanding. Kind of disgusting. There are a million essays on the topic out there, lamenting the difficulties of modern parenthood while encouraging moms and dads to, nonetheless, appreciate these moments before they fade away. 

I don't love the sentiment, if you want to know the truth. I mean, I'm not sure I'll savor those precious moments where Nora wouldn't put her shoes on, while moaning low and relentlessly, like some kind of world weary refugee.  

What I do think, however, is that life with little kids can be a lot of fun, and fulfilling for everyone involved, at least most of the time. But you have to make conscientious choices towards that end.

For me, that involves carefully planning my time. Like, not choosing not to try and do "just a little bit of work" while home with both kids, when what will happen in reality is I'll get down to the task at hand right as Gabe decides to try and lethally maim his sister with a wooden sword. Hence #8.

It also involves doing things that both me and the kids like, not just one or the other. I've never been the type of parent to regularly get down on the floor and play with my children - it's just not in me - but I love to watch them play while digging my feet in the warm sand and listening to the waves roll in. Hence, #5.

I almost skipped writing summer goals, like I did last year. After all, I've got a baby on the way and am going to be hindered by my pregnancy somewhat this season, then by a newborn.

I think that's even more reason to make a list, though. To keep me from holing up in the air-conditioned heaven of our bedroom and watching TV shows on the iPad with a pint of ice cream. 

Although, don't get me wrong. I'm going to be doing that. 

Those of you who know me well have full permission to roll your eyes at #1. I realize at this point action speaks louder than words, and that my words on this subject have been nothing but false promises.

Seriously though, guys. This is the summer I do it. 

  1. read "Ulysses"
  2. buy a Beyonce album. 
  3. get the baby clothes out and organized
  4. go to a game, any sport
  5. spend an afternoon at the beach
  6. go to Contois Tavern 
  7. exercise regularly
  8. plan a better schedule for the days I work
  9. go on a kid-free getaway (or two)
  10. have an incredible cheeseburger
  11. visit a CT town I've never been to before
  12. plan a drive to Maine with plenty of interesting stops
  13. go shopping with my Mom
  14. go for a morning walk with my Dad
  15. have a killer glass (or more) of wine (post-birth)
  16. have an amazing glass of lemonade (while pregnant)
  17. celebrate an engagement 
  18. cook out at Lighthouse Point 
  19. have dinner outside once a week
  20. grow an herb garden
  21. get my car detailed
  22. create a designated bank account for travel 
  23. eat peppermint ice cream
  24. take a nap

The weeks roll on. And on.

by Cara McDonough

As of this week I'm in the third trimester of pregnancy, and, to be more specific, the third trimester of the last pregnancy I will ever experience, because any further pregnancies would interfere big time with the kid-free trip to South America J and I have been planning for about five years. The trip that keeps getting pushed back

I've reached the magical stage where you go from feeling really great to feeling like, "Holy hell, I couldn't possibly get any more pregnant than this, could I?" But, the thing is, you've got roughly three months to go. Three MONTHS!

To be fair, I've been feeling good this time around, better than I did during the previous two pregnancies. I think a big part of that might be the fact that there isn't time to dwell on any annoying symptoms. With two children already, our life is too busy for that. It's not like when I was pregnant with Nora, and every spare moment not dedicated to work, or sleep, or eating ice cream sundaes could be utilized for thoroughly analyzing the full scale attack on my body. 

In all seriousness, I like being pregnant for the most part. But I'm also, you know, glad it's a temporary situation. 

I was scrolling through pictures on my phone today, and found one I sent my parents a few months ago, at 16 weeks. 


I mean, I'm looking at this now, and I'm not even sure this legally qualifies as pregnant. 

After, I didn't take any pictures of myself for awhile, at least not the kind pointing out my increasing size. I've never been a big fan of photo-documenting the process, but this time, the last time, I'm a little more eager to do so.

I had Nora, who has turned into a very enthusiastic photographer lately, take this picture outside our house a couple weeks ago, after I'd come home from my sister-in-law's bridal shower. My dad said it looked like some sort of commentary on American domestic life. Nora's good. Here I'm about 26 weeks.

That's a cupcake in the pink box on the stairs - a favor from the shower - and it's downright amazing that it came home intact considering I had it on the passenger seat next to me in the car for like 15 minutes. Willpower. Also, I'd eaten one and a half while I was there. 

Then, today, at a little over 28 weeks, I don't know, it's just suddenly  like, oh, ok! There's an enormous baby in there. And it's very difficult to shave my legs. Or walk up the stairs sometimes. 

Also, correct, we need to make the bed. 

From here on out there's no hiding my current condition. It's right in people's faces, sometimes literally. Like, the other day, I ran by the store on my way home to pick up a pound of coffee beans. Just a most certainly pregnant woman picking up coffee beans and nothing else. The woman ringing me up said, "I hope this isn't for you!" She was laughing, so I'm not sure how serious she was, but the implication was clear: You're so totally pregnant and pregnant people don't drink coffee, right?

I explained it by stating, "Oh, this is my third," and then realizing that didn't exactly answer the question, said, "Can't get through the day without it!" Then further clarified, in case she didn't get the point that I absolutely still drink coffee in the morning, lest I die. How else could you possibly get this body out of bed? "Yeah. It's for me."

Our life is a Seinfeld episode

by Cara McDonough

I know I've told you guys about the cat before, and I don't want to bore you with it again, but I've been thinking about it lately. The cat we owned back in North Carolina, who was a wonderful animal despite the fact that cats aren't my favorite, and died of cancer after we'd had him for a few years, a really sad day for me. 

That's not the story I'm referring to, though. 

What I'm talking about is the period when J and I were renting this lovely, spacious home in Carrboro, NC from the owner, who very kindly gave us a low monthly price, with the understanding that we'd take good care of it while we lived there. This was incredibly generous of her seeing that we were in our mid-twenties, and we did honor the deal, except for a couple of incredibly awesome parties. Just a couple. 

Oh, and then, you know, the cat. Which we didn't mention to our landlord (whose name was Debbie Gibson, by the way, DEBBIE GIBSON), because we really wanted to live there and she'd already agreed to rent to us with two dogs. Our reasoning was, "Ok. She's accepted the two dogs. We CANNOT add a cat to the deal." 

So, a year or two later, when she decided to sell the house and would bring potential buyers over to see the place, what we would do is put our cat, Teddy, in his carrier, and drive around the neighborhood with him for awhile until we were certain they'd left.

If you're getting what I'm saying here, what we'd do is, we'd rush home, put our elderly cat in a carrier, and then drive around the neighborhood with him while our landlord, Debbie Gibson, showed her home to a potential buyer. This is what we did instead of tell her we had a cat. 

Like I said, I know I've probably mentioned this situation before, but I've been thinking about it again, because I think it says a lot about J and I. We sometimes make life a little difficult for ourselves, but it usually yields a good story.

As many of you know, we're expecting baby number three, a statement that I feel needs a series of exclamation points (!!!) and the added explanation: "Yes, I know we're crazy." The truth is, though, I think we were always going to have three kids and I feel very serene about the whole thing, like we're fulfilling a very exciting, and fated, life plan.

It's true that there's a lot up in the air. We don't know where J's job prospects are going to take us next, or when, although I've decided that the days immediately surrounding my due date in August are probably off limits. We've been thinking about the steps we need to take in advance of putting our house on the market while simultaneously trying to make plans for this summer. It's a transitory, strange time, and that was all I thought about for awhile. It stressed me out, this temporary existence; the thought that our life in New Haven could, on one hand, span another year or two. Or, on the other, a couple of months. 

Then the stress broke. I think it has to when you're in limbo. J finally heard about a couple of jobs, allowing us to let go of several possibilities and open the door to a few others, I started making plans for the next school year and decided we had to simply move on. Including having another baby if we wanted! And then, before we'd had time to really digest that very important thought, oh my god, we were having another baby. 

We aren't finding out the sex this time, but I DO know that this baby needs me to eat a lot of baked goods. 

Getting pregnant helped divert attention away from the stress of figuring out what we'd do once J is done with his post-doc. It put things in perspective in a really good way.

Recent months have been distracting in other, more annoying ways, as well. Nonetheless, I've had a very good time getting worked up about these problems. There was the fact that Gabriel didn't get into the Pre-K class at Nora's public magnet school next year, even though he should have had an extremely good chance, given that his application included a "sibling preference." 

Getting the news, investigating various discrepancies in my application, and hearing from other parents who didn't get in - but probably should have - has ignited in me a rather intense attitude towards the New Haven Public School system. Every day, for about 20 minutes, I am full prepared to go down the Superintendent's Office and sit in protest until someone will see me and address these injustices.

In reality, I've written a number of emails and cursed a lot and am thinking about next steps. 

Then, there is the fact that Nora has cavities. This is a smaller, yet still worrisome issue, that has taken up more of my mental capacity than I ever dreamed something like this would when I was young and childless woman who thought I'd be using my education and energy to "do important world-changing work" or "follow my dreams" when I was older.  

It turns out that actually, when you become a parent, you have to think about things like cavities. And how you're going to convince your son it's not a great idea to take his diapers off by himself particularly when there's, you know, poop. 

Nora's dentist told us that she has one big cavity, and several smaller ones, and very strongly recommended she get the dental work done under general anesthesia at the hospital, which is apparently a thing they do now, and prompted many questions from me, such as: How did this happen? and, What?! and, Does that seems kind of crazy, guys? and, Won't these baby teeth just fall out anyway? 

I learned, making me feel a teensy bit better, that, yes, this does happen to children, even under dental care, and when you've been taking good care of their teeth, including secretly eating a lot of their Halloween and Easter candy so they don't have to eat it all.

And that even though Nora's behavior at the dentist has been very good so far, it's not uncommon for dentists to recommend this route when there is a decent amount of work to be done, even though it seems, to me, a pretty aggressive sedation plan for cavities.  

The argument is that it helps the child maintain a positive relationship with the dentist. That's not a good enough reason for me, so I'm sticking with my gut feeling, and am going to ask that they attempt this work in the office first, even if they don't like me for making this decision. 

Now, I wouldn't say that Nora is the most stoic child in the face of pain or other distress; last night I was taking out her ponytail holders and she started lashing and moaning because I was, apparently, ruining her entire life. And the other morning, when she was supposed to be getting dressed for the day, I found her weeping silently in bed. When I asked her what the matter was, she said there were no undies in the drawer. 

One thing she is, however, is obedient. She spent the first few weeks of school in what I imagine was a decent amount of discomfort because she thought she might have heard the teacher say that you were only allowed to go to the bathroom once a day during a very specifically designated time, which is of course not the case, but Nora wouldn't dare break the rules. We might have to talk her out this unquestioned respect for authority someday, but for now, it's helpful, and I think will serve her well with the dentist. She's not going to question him or his actions. 

Also, we will bribe her. 

Then, finally, there is the distraction that's been most responsible for redirecting my focus from the crucial to the mundane over the past few months, and that's J's car, our beloved Prius, which was totaled when someone hit it while it was parked outside his lab one day. She hit it, um, pretty hard, but at least had the decency to stay put and try and explain herself.

Sadly, the car was unfixable, and we collected a respectable check from our insurance agency. Not, of course, enough to buy a new car - if only the world worked that way - but enough to put a good amount down on one. 

We didn't immediately go out and get another car, though. We didn't do that, because I am talking about the couple that, instead of tell their landlord they had a cat, drove the cat around the neighborhood every time the landlord came over. 

I've always wished we could exist with just one car between us. We did for a long time in Chapel Hill. But where we live now it's really not feasible. J needs to drive to work, the kids each need to be driven to different schools and when I have freelance work, it generally requires a lot of driving around to interview subjects or cover a story. The New Haven bus is alright, but often not on time, so J would find himself heading out to catch it, and getting into work - a couple miles drive away - about 40 minutes later. 

The other minor detail is that, despite the fact that he can do it, J generally refuses to drive my car because it's stick shift. He proudly admits this, and rejoices in explaining to me why manual cars can and should be obsolete. 

So, for a good month, we were sharing my car, and by "sharing" I mean that I was driving everyone around everywhere all the time. There were, if you can believe it, parts of this I really liked, including us all getting in the car to go to work and school in the morning. J and I would talk schedules and other boring domestic details that always seem too mind-numbing for a lazy Saturday morning and too tiring for weekday evenings after the children are in bed, but are a perfect conversation topic for the 8 o'clock commute. 

And the kids, especially Nora, seemed to love the togetherness of it all. "We're all going in the same car?!" she'd ask. 

But there were parts of the one-car thing that I didn't like, too, like, well, pretty much everything besides driving in together in the morning. 

So after a few weeks of trying it out, we'd declared our one-car experiment over and J made an appointment to go look at a Prius at a Toyota dealership willing to give him a good deal. 

Our new car is dark blue and shiny and I think life is getting back to normal. For now. 

While we were at the dealership, the kids, who thought the place was the most magical playscape they'd ever encountered, caught me peeking inside the showroom Toyota Highlander, and asked if they could get in. I let them because by that point we'd been there a long time and they were beginning to lose it. An enclosed space? With doors? Yes, kids, get in. 

They were obsessed. The beautiful cream-colored seats. The third row seating, perfect for a family with three children. The DVD player. The myriad cupholders! Nora pointed them out to me multiple times. 

A car like that would be so fun, I told them. And they wholeheartedly agreed. But, I thought to myself, we're not ready. Not yet. First we'll squeeze you all into the back of my Outback, close as can be, with two dogs in the back on road trips, one with a penchant for sneaking up on unassuming kids and stealing snacks right out their hands.

We'll go that route for as long as possible, is my guess, until one day, when I can't take it anymore. Maybe I'll pinch my finger rearranging a carseat or one kid will maim another to a degree that can't be ignored, and it will be the last straw. 

Then, perhaps, we'll get a new car.

I'll think, as I so often do, that we probably could have avoided this insanity. But the good stories, they're always worth the trade off. 


by Cara McDonough

A few months ago the inevitable happened and J visited Pinterest and opened an account. Not to share recipes with his friends, he'd like me to point out, I'm sure (although I think what he'd like even more than that is for me not to write this post), but to discover cool ideas and projects, which, from my passing observations of Pinterest, seems like a great way to use the site. 

Like, Pinterest might show you how to turn the wine corks you've been storing in a container in a basement into miniature planters for succulents and other tiny plants. As J has a collection of wine corks he's been saving up for years in order to "do something with them someday" (NO COMMENT) this particular link was a useful find. 

J is much more into "projects" than I am, a term he - and now Nora - seem to use to define doing semi-crafty things with stuff you find around the house. My response to the proposition of commencing a "project" is to run for it, super fast, but Nora's gotten really into cutting pictures out of magazines and making collages, and I do like to watch her work, safe on the sidelines. She's dropped roughly 400 glue sticks from the table to the floor during her creative endeavors, resulting in them rolling under the dining room hutch where they dry up never to be used again, but I think it's worth it. 

And in terms of helpful life-hacks and easy and inventive home projects, J gets really motivated, too. And it's great to see him get motivated and to think about how his inherent creativity will enhance our lives, and how I will be involved in these endeavors in no way whatsoever. 

Which I'm not sure he totally gets. Because this morning, when I mentioned that I was feeling a little lackluster, J immediately responded with the confident suggestion, "You just need to find some inspiration on Pinterest."


by Cara McDonough

February was a frigid, interminable and, like, pretty awful month if you want to know the truth. I mean, yes, I love my family and my life in general, but I could have wiped February clean off the calendar this year with few regrets. 

One of the highlights, however, was our annual President's Day get together with what was once made up of college friends, and now has morphed into a group that's harder to define, except to say that we all have a lot of fun together. 

We went to Nashville this year, a city I've never visited and absolutely loved...the music, the heart-disease-inducing food (which included for me a hamburger topped with pimento cheese, jalapeño bacon and onion rings) and the people. The people! I miss you, southern people! We hired a babysitting service one night so the adults could go out, and the entire experience was so easy and pleasant compared to interactions I often have up north, where people are sometimes defensive and irritated from the get go, probably because it is so COLD, that I was nearly convinced to move there. That's what this winter has done to me. I think seriously about things like moving to Nashville because it's really easy to hire a babysitter there, compared to Connecticut, where it's been icy for four solid months. 

Anyway, that night the grown ups headed to Broadway, the city's most happening street, and hit up a honky tonk bar, where an absolutely amazing band was playing while the audience drank PBRs and swayed to the music. Everyone was having such a good time. 

It was one of those places where the experience you imagine yourself having prior to arriving ends up being exactly what it's like, one of those nights that imprints itself on your mind and reminds you what an incredibly diverse and interesting country this is. 

Amplifying that takeaway was the fact that we drove to Nashville, and go to see many more miles of the U.S.A. over the long weekend than we'd originally anticipated. We drove there from New Haven, because, after waiting way, way too long to book flights - a bad habit of ours - we realized that flying the family there would cost thousands of dollars and we said, "You know what? Let's turn this into a fun road trip!"

And it was a fun road trip, which included stopping to see friends and family and teaching our kids some of the central activities required to make long rides fun, like browsing the many brochures in rest stops and playing "I spy," which quickly turned into a variant of "I spy" that seemed to be called "I see something..." which is like the former, but with no guessing. You see something, you say it. 

Although we took plenty of extra days to turn this into an actual road trip, rather than just a frenzied car ride, it was still a lot of distance traveled in just a few days, something that was very clear to our astute Nora, who insisted at one point that she and Gabriel pretend they were airplanes, going very fast to various locations she'd announce over her pretend loudspeaker, like Florida and California. Then, after awhile, she informed me, with a serious look, "I think for our next trip, we should fly." 

Observations on a Connecticut Winter

by Cara McDonough

This morning I was watching the public works employees picking up trash on our street, and observed one of them take our garbage bin from the truck, then throw it - hard - over the snow heap that's collected on our curb over the past few weeks, onto the sidewalk, where it fell over and clattered to a stop on its side. 

And my first thought wasn't, "Dude, that sucks," or "Way to overreact!" Instead, I thought to myself, "Yeah. I get it." Because if I was out in the negative degree wind chill retrieving trash bins from their precarious positions perched on snowbanks by residents who just don't care about anything anymore - residents who have basically been staying inside in their flannel PJS since November, eating comfort food and watching television - then I, too, would probably be throwing stuff around. 

This has been the kind of winter, similar to last year's, where the joy normally provided by snowfall and snow days and everything else that comes with the season has been severely diminished by the severity and relentlessness of the weather. I used to like it when it snowed; it's something special, exciting. But last night, as I was driving back from the grocery store and a gusty mini-snowstorm blossomed out of nowhere, I literally said aloud in my car, "Oh, no way, what the hell is THIS?"

I know there are places where it's like this all the time and you can't really complain. But I find Connecticut isn't one of those locales where winter is wholeheartedly embraced, like it is in Minnesota, where they seem to have a lot of fun during colder months, snowshoeing and traveling from building to building in specially constructed tunnels and what have you. I know I'm not a northeast native, but it seems that up here, everybody is just a tiny bit unprepared for such harsh weather over such a long stretch. Every time I take one or both children outside to get them in the car, for instance, the procedure is as follows. 

1. Walk down front steps. Everyone nearly dies on some new ice that has materialized.

2. Hold hands on once-shoveled-but-now-treacherous path to driveway. Child - who is absentmindedly "skating" on slippery patch  - falls down. 

3. Pick up child and hold onto top of car for dear life while hurtling them into carseat. 

4. Shuffle to driver's side. Turn heater to highest level. Curse everything. 

If I had at some point gotten realistic about this weather, instead of continually assuming that warmer temps would be here in, oh, a week or two and none of this would be an issue anymore, maybe I would have tried harder to improve the ins and outs of my day to day existence in this climate. Instead I'm muddling through as though not embracing this lifestyle will hasten spring's arrival. No luck there yet. 

But when it does come, trust me, I'll be as crazy as the rest of these CT natives, wearing short sleeves on 50 degree days and sunbathing on the asphalt. The grass, too, once the snow is gone, which I'm estimating has gotta happen by June. July, at the latest. 


by Cara McDonough

Although I do have work to do, my schedule right now mostly involves being home. It's a change and a challenge for me. 

I don't like being a stay-at-home mom. It's hard to type that without adding the obligatory qualifiers most of us add to such a statement. Like, "But I'm glad I get to have this time with my children" (which is true). It's hard to say because it seems mean, and like I'm disparaging the job of staying home with kids (which is definitely a job) by saying I'd rather be working more hours out of the home, or full time. And then I worry that people who do work full time will tell me I'm crazy. That I'm lucky I get to be with my children. 

But I'm finally mature enough - sort of - to acknowledge my desires without fearing I'm making some sort of misogynistic or anti-mom statement. It's just the way I feel. I adore my children, but when I spend time away from my house, working on other endeavors, I enjoy my time with them more. I'm trying to admit things like that without feeling guilty, and meanwhile, to make the best use of my current schedule and situation, which is most likely temporary, so that it's fun for everybody involved.

Because being home with my children involves some things I truly love, and one of those things is having lunch with Gabriel when I bring him home from the preschool he attends three mornings a week.    


We listen to "Fresh Air" on the local public radio affiliate and sit on the couch and eat together, even though I have tried to enact the "no eating on the couch" rule about a million times since SOMEBODY likes to crawl all over the furniture like a monkey when he eating, which not only gets incredibly messy, but is a choking hazard. Luckily Nora's at school when I'm admonishing him for such actions, because when she hears me warn of potential dangers, like choking, she basically has what is as close to a heart attack as a five-year-old can get. She likes everybody to follow the rules. 

When it's just me and my youngest, though, we break them a little. And it's one of my favorite parts of the day. 

At least I am good at putting on a scarf

by Cara McDonough

I readily admit that I'm not good at technical ventures, like using tools to organize my email inboxes or utilizing my MacBook to its full capabilities. I don't know how to turn on the editing function in Microsoft Word, so when I'm perusing a document, I'll just switch the text color to red and write my edits like that. I'm 36, and this is not going to change.

I don't know how many of you watch the show "Parks and Recreation," but I love it, and there's a scene in a fifth season episode where the character Tom Haverford chastises his officemate, Jerry, for the way he checks his email. It goes down like this:

Tom: Oh my God, Jerry? When you check your email, you go to AltaVista and type “please go to yahoo.com”?

Jerry: Well, how else would I do it?

Tom: You don’t have your email bookmarked? Do you have any bookmarks?

Jerry: What’s “bookmarks”?

Tom: God, Jerry! You don’t deserve the internet!

I identify with Jerry in this scene so much. For example, when I write on this blog, what I do is Google "Squarespace" (which I'm now using for hosting) and then I click on the link and log in from there. Instead of having the sign in page bookmarked on my toolbar. Because I don't know how to put a link up on the toolbar.

This morning, as I was performing the usual search-and-click ritual, I decided, enough already, I needed to learn how to put a link on the toolbar. To be totally honest, another event that prompted this decision occurred earlier when I was trying to log a different blog where I'm a contributor: what I do is search my Yahoo email inbox for this particular email from a particular guy who works at the news establishment that produces this blog. He once sent me instructions for logging in, and relocating that email, which is about half a year old, is how I do it.

I mean, come on, Cara.

Yahoo is apparently having problems this afternoon, so I couldn't log in, couldn't find the email, and couldn't write my post, which got me motivated. 

What I did, of course, was begin Googling "How to put a link on your Firefox toolbar." But before I got to the end of the sentence, I'd been provided these suggested phrases based on my initial words:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.53.27 PM.png

Which made me feel better, because apparently A TON of people don't know how to put a tampon in or, ahem, a condom on, and a great many of poor souls think the internet is going to give them immediately effective advice on getting their baby to sleep. Also, a curse on someone?! 

And yeah, feel free to point out that this image also shows that I'd Googled "How to take a screenshot," so that I could use the above picture on this post. I'm hopeless. But also lucky that in this modern age a search engine can provide you the information necessary to do anything. You guys, anything.

Whole Foods: A few thoughts

by Cara McDonough

This morning, facing a day of no school or activities for my children, I decided that we would all go grocery shopping together, a task I needed to complete, but something I don't usually do with both kids. If I have to, I normally go to the grocery store nearest our house because there's a large Italian-American contingent that shops there (my people), and they seem to think it's adorable when Gabe screams things like, "Mommy, DO YOU SEE that balloon?!?" This, by the way, is a passive aggressive tactic of his when trying to attain something he wants, as well as a simple question ("Mommy, what's in that drawer? Oh. Is it chocolate? Oh, chocolate.")

This time though I decided we'd go to Whole Foods so that we could have our pick of a bunch of great produce. I was like, hey, this will be fun. The kids can help me pick some healthy snacks - which it's much easier to do when you're at that particular grocery store - and I would, well, get to shop at Whole Foods! Which I love to do, rarely buying more than just a few items, yet somehow always spending $50 or more. That's just what happens there and you sort of have to deal with it, while you enjoy your organic dark chocolate and satsumas. 

Today, though, I decided we'd spend some actual time there, and it went surprisingly well. I don't know if it was the fact that they were tired from a weekend of plentiful events, or just that they were too occupied being impressed by the setup and offerings in there, like I always am, but both kids were very well-behaved, and we succeeded in buying a few things we don't normally, which is what I'd wanted. Blood oranges, for instance. Brown pears, instead of green ones. 

As much of a joy as Whole Foods is to a food lover like me, however, I always come away feeling a little weird,  and I think it's more than the fact that I feel like I need to do penance after paying the bill. Maybe it's the fact that there are different gradients, in numbers, posted on animal items letting you know just how well this or that cow was treated, and although even the lowest rating indicates pretty good conditions, I always feel bad choosing that one, when I could choose a higher number. A more fairly treated cow. 

But I think what it really is, is that people don't seem to be having much fun when I go to Whole Foods. It could just be this particular location we visit, or perhaps I'm just so worried about spending over a million that I project my own anxiety onto others. I think, though, that the store might be a place for people who shop in a much more serious way than I do. Where shopping isn't a happy, even relaxing, way to spend a morning, like it is for me - imagining all the meals you'll make, or how good those blood oranges will taste - but a stress trigger, causing one to wonder where the hell the organic unsulphured unsweetened dried cherries are, because goddamnit, there's only unsulphured sweetened on the shelf. 

Or, same theme, but crazier, there was the woman this morning who'd tracked down a salesperson and brought her to the bulk aisle to lament the fact that there wasn't some particular type of nut available that she needed to buy for her macaw.

Yeah, I think it's that. Oh, and also that I came extremely close to buying goat milk, thinking it was half and half.  Thankfully, I re-checked the label. 

Before dark

by Cara in ,

One of the things I reticently admit to people - because it makes me seem kind of goth and weird - is that I actually like it when daylight saving time ends in the fall. I've probably said it here before; I like it when it gets dark at 5 p.m. When there's no guilt that we're not spending those hours outdoors, where, inevitably, my children would be trying to kill each other over the one, prized scooter we own, rather than nicely playing with one of the five hundred other little vehicles that are available. I mean, Gabriel INSISTS, nearly every time we go out, "I'm going to take my car," by which he means the Cozy Coupe. "It has eyes," he tells us, and then I envision him driving it down the interstate, which never gets old. But when I actually give him the option to go in his car - on the sidewalk, which is, I guess, less exciting than the prospect of driving it to the grocery store - forget it. He. Wants. THAT. SCOOTER. The one Nora is riding. And although he seems to have learned that yanking people off things that have wheels and are moving is not okay, that doesn't mean he doesn't do it sometimes.

That's not to say we don't have a great time being outside. We do. It's simply to say that, once the weather gets cold and we turn back the clocks, I don't exactly lament the leaving behind of the front doorstep refereeing, when I can be doing that same refereeing inside with no shoes on and a cup of tea.

The truth, though, is that my children are at ages - two and five-years-old - where there is far more playing than there is fighting. Even when there is fighting, Nora would much rather tell on her little brother than fight back, and that's alright with me for now.

Lately, what transpires on the days when I'm home with them are these lovely hours inside, perhaps getting dinner started and waiting for J to arrive, while the children (mostly) play well together, and the sky rapidly darkens, and I often have to check the time because if I'm not careful I'd have us all in bed by 6:15 or so, since the kids wouldn't know any better and I, secretly, would really love to go to bed at 6:15.

I've been trying to make peace with the fact that this isn't the kind of time where I can get anything significant done, like write a novel or redo the whole layout of the house or anything, because - as physically able as he is sometimes - Gabe loves to try dangerous things that don't always work out the way he wants, like try to scale the back of the sofa. I've got to keep an eye on him.

Beyond that, I've started thinking about the way Nora views me. It's not that I'd ever hide doing necessary tasks - like laundry or dishes - from her, to alter that image. But I'm also not sure I want her to see a woman who is afraid of being still; of taking a few moments for herself while her children are at those miraculous ages where they'd rather be with each other than anyone else in the world.

With these things in mind, when I do have a few down moments on these quiet evenings, I sit on the couch and I read. And I think about how incredibly different this time of life is. So very different than a couple of years ago when I'd dread those hours before J got home, alone with the a toddler and a baby and so, to tired (including this one evening where, just for like 30 seconds, I accidentally fell asleep, and everyone lived, don't worry).

I read, and then, inevitably, Gabe comes by with something from the dress-up bin and suggests I "be a mouse" or "be a bear," and I tell him no thanks, and he repeats - always willing to go the distance for what he wants - "MOMMY I WANT YOU TO BE A BEAR!" So I'm a bear for a few moments, before he realizes I'm really weak at being a bear, and returns to his sister. They keep playing, and I keep reading and I rejoice because it is only 4:30, and we are in for the night.

BU memories, Dyson 4-ever

by Cara in

A few weekends ago I took a trip to Boston to meet up with two of my college friends for a little walk down nostalgia lane. We'd questioned bringing husbands and kids along for the trip, and then vetoed that idea, deciding what we really wanted was a girls weekend, and I am really glad we did because guess what we were up to Saturday morning? Walking around the Boston University campus visiting all the dorms and apartments we inhabited during those eventful four years, and then taking pictures of ourselves out front. I'm pretty sure the boys would have put a stop to this activity, oh, before it even began, suggesting instead that we drink beers and watch baseball or something (please note that we girls also did that.) On Friday night, awaiting the third member of our party who'd be arriving at the airport shortly, my friend Ro and I went to the BU Pub, an establishment we'd frequented our senior year, open only to students, alumni and their guests. We sat at a wooden table, just like we did years ago, and drank beer, just like we did years ago.

A little different this time around, however, were the subjects of conversation. We - in tipsy, jovial tones - talked about the health benefits of almond milk, discussed our favorite breakfast options and waxed poetic on the value of a good vacuum cleaner before we stopped to point out that we were now unmistakable 30-somethings, so jarringly different than the 20-something selves that once gathered in this same space.

There was no sadness in this observation. It was, instead, illuminating. And little did I know that the discussion would have lasting implications. Just few days later my friend emailed me with that day's deal on the Woot! website: a refurbished Dyson vacuum cleaner at an incredibly reasonable price. A Dyson! Which we'd talked about enthusiastically over those beers, as I expressed the most boring of my eternal desires: to own one.

I made the purchase in a heartbeat and our new vacuum cleaner arrived a week later. I put the box upstairs, waiting for a quiet moment to unwrap the contents and marvel at this new, lightweight wonder, which would replace our clunky Eurkea.

I never got the chance, though. Because J got to it first, put it together, and was vacuuming within minutes. He's since installed its wall hanger in the basement stairway, where our new Dyson now resides when he is not using it to master the too-frequently occurring dust-bunnies that haunt each and every corner of our house, thanks to our always-shedding dogs.

He's used it to vacuum every day since, remarking cheerfully that he "just wants to keep on top of things," while our children run in horror from the loud sound, unleashed at the most unexpected moments. I, meanwhile, look on happily, realizing that one result of my mini-college reunion - finally buying a Dyson - meant I not only got the item I'd always wanted, but somehow unleashed a passionate house cleaner. I suppose, idealist that he is, he was simply waiting for the right tools of the trade.